Monday, April 22, 2024

Mine lawsuit isn't a vendetta to put people out of work

| January 25, 2007 11:00 PM

To the Editor:

Bill Orchow would like nothing better than to portray Cabinet Resource Group's lawsuit against the Troy mine as management by litigation or a vendetta aimed at putting people out of work; nothing could be further from the truth!

CRG reluctantly filed its lawsuit after watching Asarco and Revett stall the regulatory process for seven years over the issue of a viable reclamation plan for the Troy mine. Montana law and the Metal Mine Reclamation Act require mine operating permits have reclamation plans. The Troy mine does not have one that can be implemented according to the requirements of the law. These companies figured they could operate the mine with the inadequate and under-funded plan from 1980. They make more money by operating in this fashion.

Mr. Orchow says Revett is committed to doing whatever is necessary to protect Montana's environment and taxpayers, at the same time he attempts to obfuscate what the law and the state require. Plain and simple, the law requires an environmental impact statement for revision of the Troy reclamation plan. The state has told Revett this on numerous occasions and legally published the fact in the Feb. 28, March 7 and March 14, 2001, editions of The Western News. Mr. Orchow cannot deny this, much as he would have the public believe he doesn't know what is required of his company.

Orchow thinks a revised Troy plan and EIS should wait until his company has finished its exploration studies and mining plan: that may be penny-wise for his mining company, but pound-foolish for the taxpayer. Again, state law is very clear; "a company may not mine without an operating permit," and an operating permit must be accompanied by a reclamation plan. With his extensive mining background as a former Kennecott Mining Company executive, Mr. Orchow better than most people should understand why the citizens of Montana have elected to protect themselves as such.

If he needs a reminder he needn't look much farther than his former Sterling board of directors and stockholders, among whom are a few former executives of the defunct Zortman-Landusky mine near Malta. Reclamation and bonding mistakes there are only projected to cost the citizens of Montana some $34-70 million over an indefinite future, to say nothing of the blight it has visited on the waters and reservation of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Indian Tribes on the Fort Belknap Reservation.

Orchow is well acquainted with mining's historical legacy of boom and bust, enormous riches for the few and environmental rap sheet of disasters. These aspects of the industry haven't changed much, any matter which way the industry tries to spin their way out of them. Perhaps this accounts for his comment desirous of a simpler environmental analysis, which demands a much less rigorous level of scrutiny than the required EIS. Perhaps the question of the barrels Asarco admitted burying in the tailings impoundment is an item of lingering concern. After all, Revett had the opportunity to lay the issue to rest, but decided against this prudent option.

In all fairness to Mr. Orchow, the Department of Environmental Quality and head legal enforcement officer need to accept some small measure of responsibility for the seven-year Troy reclamation hiatus. The MMRA is clearly worded and written, and lacks only judicious and willful intent on their part to be effectively implemented. Coddling industries unwilling to abide by conditions of their permits and the rules of agencies implementing state law is bad policy. You only have to go as far as Libby to understand the implications of lackadaisical human health and environmental enforcement.

So you see Mr. Orchow, this isn't a dispute about jobs. It's about protecting our people, our communities, our land and wildlife from the toxic legacy of an abandoned mine. We want the state to require more than empty promises from your mining company. We want the state to follow the law and require that your company fund a study capable of determining what it will take to reclaim this mine in the end, and how much it will cost. This way, it is more likely that your company will actually pay for cleanup, instead of us taxpayers.

Cesar Hernandez